Our Rating: [usr 4]
In 1930s Korea, during the Japanese occupation, a grifter (Ha Jung-woo) sets his sights on a beautiful Japanese heiress (Kim Min-hee) with an aim to woo her, marry her, commit her to an asylum, then abscond with her vast fortune. To this end, he finagles a naive apprentice (Kim Tae-ri) to get a job as the heiress’ handmaiden and encourage the heiress to wed this so-called “Japanese count”. A snag arises when the apprentice finds herself sexually attracted to the heiress… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, in another mad parade of perversity from Park Chan-wook.
Directed by Park Chan-wook – 2016
Reviewed by Mark Tapio Kines
The Handmaiden is structurally complex – the less you know about the story ahead of time, the better – and fully bilingual, with its Japanese dialogue subtitled in yellow and its Korean dialogue subtitled in white, befitting the double-crossing that packs the byzantine plot. (Even the estate where the swindle unfolds has a dual nature: it is one-half Japanese temple and one-half English country manor.) Yet while the film is clearly a statement on the demoralizing effect that the Japanese occupation had on the Korean people, mostly it’s just a fun – sick fun – shell game on the audience.
The Handmaiden doesn’t have the disturbing emotional impact of Park’s “revenge trilogy” (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), but it’s a step above Thirst (his so-so stab at genre) and Stoker (his ill-fated English language debut, where his direction far outshone Wentworth Miller’s muddled script). Because the plot is the thing here – the story was adapted from Sarah Walters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, set in Victorian England – you’ll find yourself swept up by the various machinations, carried along by some impeccable shots, lush music, and outrageous moments, and ultimately dumped off with a thud. You’ll be satisfied by the thrill ride aspect of the film, but left hungry for more sustenance. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth a go. Fans of Park know what’s in store. Newcomers expecting a restrained foreign drama are in for an eye-opening experience.
> Playing at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7.
Mark Tapio Kines is a film director, writer, producer and owner of Cassava Films. You can reach Mark here.
We hope you appreciated this article. Before you move on, please consider supporting the Colorado Boulevard’s journalism.
Billionaires, hedge fund owners and local imposters have a powerful hold on the information that reaches the public. Colorado Boulevard stands to serve the public interest – not profit motives.
While fairness guides everything we do, we know there is a right and a wrong position in the fight against racism and climate crisis while supporting reproductive rights and social justice. We provide a fresh perspective on local politics – one so often missing from so-called ‘local’ journalism.
You can access Colorado Boulevard’s paywall-free journalism because of our unique reader-supported model. People like you, informed readers, keep us independent, beholden to no outside influence, and accessible to everyone.
Please consider supporting Colorado Boulevard today. Thank you. (Click to Support)